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'Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout' - an exhibition at The New York Public Library


Artist and writer Lauren Redniss to display artwork from her critically-acclaimed graphic biography inspired by NYPL's collections starting January 14

 HarperCollins, 2010.Lauren Redniss. 'Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout', pp146-147. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.A powerful new exhibition at The New York Public Library artfully weaves together the dramatic love story of 19th century scientists Marie and Pierre Curie with their discovery of radioactivity as an atomic property.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout opens at the Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street on January 14 and runs through April 17, 2011. It is the creation of writer and artist Lauren Redniss, who worked on a book of the same title while she was a Fellow at the Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers in 2008-09. The book, released by HarperCollins in December 2010, is described by The New York Times as “literate and supple…serious science and brisk storytelling…a deeply unusual and forceful thing to have in your hands.” The exhibit juxtaposes original artwork from the book with Library materials that inspired and influenced the artist. A highly imaginative website created by Redniss and her students at Parsons The New School for Design will add fresh dimensions to the Radioactive experience.

“I wanted to create a visual book about invisible forces: radioactivity and love,” says Redniss of Radioactive. “I was drawn to the Curies' story because it is full of drama. There’s passion, discovery, tragedy, and scandal. But I also thought the Curies' story was an interesting way to look at questions that affect our world right now. Since Marie Curie coined the word 'radioactivity' in 1898, we've struggled with nuclear weapons proliferation; we've debated the role of radiation in medical treatment; we've considered nuclear energy as an alternative energy source to counter climate change. These questions all have roots in a love story in turn-of-the-century Paris.”

 HarperCollins, 2010.Lauren Redniss. 'Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout', pp38-39. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.While researching the book, Redniss traveled to Hiroshima to interview atomic bomb survivors, visited the house where Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland, and talked to weapons specialists at the Nevada Test Site where nearly 1,000 nuclear bombs were detonated during the Cold War. Her artistic and intellectual explorations continued at the Cullman Center, where Redniss examined The New York Public Library’s rare books, extensive map collection, and hand-painted 19th century travelogues. She explored the Library’s Digital Gallery while designing her book’s typeface. In the Library’s Spencer Collection she studied Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae  (1843) - a camera-less photographic technique that produces images on pages of deeply-saturated blue color. Many of the Library’s materials that inspired Redniss’ work will be displayed alongside her images – among them an x-ray of a mummy from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a spiral staircase print from “The Pageant of America” Photograph Archive, cigarette cards, film stills, 18th century advertisements, and drawings of hairstyles from 19th century France.

“It has been a complete delight to collaborate with Lauren Redniss on this exhibition of her brilliant work about the Curies – much of which she did while a Fellow at this Center,” says Jean Strouse, Director of the Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. “We have a rare opportunity here to show how an artist draws on the Library's spectacular resources to create something entirely new.”

Redniss, a professor at Parsons The New School of Design, worked with fourteen graduate and undergraduate Parsons students to create an additional work of art – an online exhibition that enhances the Library’s physical show. The website explores themes from the book with videos, interactive games, animations, and music. After watching a video of Redniss producing a cyanotype print, users will be able to create digitally-simulated cyanotypes of their own with images from NYPL's online collections. They will turn pages of a virtual Radioactive book, see other books and art that were “Made at NYPL,” watch movie start lovers morph into Pierre and Marie Curie, and travel through a dream landscape based on Marie’s life and afterlife. To explore it the site, go to

 HarperCollins, 2010.Lauren Redniss. 'Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout', pp158-159. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.Programming for the Radioactive exhibition includes Lauren Redniss in conversation with Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, MD, on Friday, January 21 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Conversations from the Cullman Center series. This program is co-presented with Science & the Arts, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Redniss and Varmus will discuss science, art, and the process of discovery. Admission is free; reservations can be made at The program will be held in the Celeste Bartos Forum at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.

Lauren Redniss will also discuss the exhibition, the Curies, and her work at the Mulberry Street Library on March 28 at 5:30 p.m. The Mulberry Street Library is located at 10 Jersey Street (between Lafayette & Mulberry Streets) in Manhattan.

Additionally, there are two series of Teen Programs: “Prints from the Sun” and “Written in Blue”. Teens will create their own artwork and fonts on light-sensitive paper in “Prints from the Sun”. They will experience the interplay between science and art in “Written in Blue”. For more information about our Radioactive-related Teen Programs, visit the exhibition website at

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout is open on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.  During the Radioactive exhibition, the Library is closed on Monday, January 17 and Monday, February 21.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout is presented in collaboration with Parsons The New School for Design.

This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

Additional support for this exhibition was provided by Martha J. Fleischman.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, Jonathan Altman, and Pannonia Foundation.

The Cullman Center is made possible by a generous endowment from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman in honor of Brooke Russell Astor, with major support provided by Mrs. John L., Weinberg, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Estate of Charles J. Liebman, John and Constance Birkelund, The Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, and additional gifts from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Mel and Lois Tukman, Helen and Roger Alcaly, The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, William W. Karatz, The Rona Jaffe Foundation, Mary Ellen von der Heyden, Merilee and Roy Bostock, Lybess Sweezy and Ken Miller, and Cullman Center Fellows.
About the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. Its renowned research collections are located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem; and the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. Eighty-seven branch libraries provide access to circulating collections and a wide range of other services in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English for speakers of other languages. All in all The New York Public Library serves more than 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at


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